Southern Company Leads Hydrogen R&D Effort to Achieve Net-Zero Goals

Southern Company and its Southern Company Gas subsidiary have helped to start a new research and development (R&D) initiative, known as HyBlend, to address the technical barriers to blending hydrogen in natural gas infrastructure and study life-cycle emissions of hydrogen blends.

As an energy industry sponsor, Southern Company Gas will spearhead the initiative. The HyBlend project will utilize expertise in Southern Company’s industry-leading R&D organization, along with industry partners, research consortia, academia and national laboratories, and encompass more than $15 million in hydrogen research.

“Natural gas is a critical partner in the growth of renewables as we foresee numerous opportunities to leverage our existing infrastructure to support clean energy, such as hydrogen,” said Dr. Mark S. Berry, vice president of R&D at Southern Company. “Emerging technologies such as hydrogen will be key as we work to achieve our enterprise-wide goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

Introducing hydrogen into existing natural gas infrastructure has national and regional benefits for energy storage, resiliency and emissions reductions. Hydrogen can be produced by splitting water molecules with renewable, nuclear or other sources of energy. This hydrogen could be injected into natural gas infrastructure, and the blend of hydrogen and natural gas can then be transported to end users of the fuel.

“We are uniquely positioned to develop the technology and infrastructure needed to produce and distribute hydrogen into our system,” said Zachary Lowe, director at Southern Company Gas. “Blending hydrogen into existing natural gas infrastructure enables us to further understand the infrastructure’s capabilities, which is essential for achieving carbon reduction goals.”

This two-year project was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy through the H2@Scale 2020 CRADA Call.

The HyBlend team is comprised of six DOE national laboratories ― National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories (SNL), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, and the National Energy Technology Laboratory ― and more than 20 participants from industry and academia.

“We’re working with industry to answer their high-priority research questions,” said Michael Peters, HyBlend project engineer at National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “First, are pipelines compatible with hydrogen? Second, what are the costs and environmental impacts? And finally, how will hydrogen blends affect appliances and other equipment in buildings?”

The areas of research include studying life-cycle emissions of hydrogen blends and techno-economic analysis of the costs and opportunities of hydrogen production. The project will leverage DOE’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office’s Hydrogen Materials Compatibility Consortium, led by SNL and PNNL, which is an internationally recognized framework for the study of hydrogen–materials compatibility. 

Southern Company is committed to collaborating with industry partners to advance global, economy-wide carbon reduction. The company’s participation in HyBlend is one of several R&D initiatives underway to investigate hydrogen’s potential. Other efforts include serving as an anchor sponsor for the Low-Carbon Resources Initiative and investigating the compatibility of hydrogen with Southern Company Gas subsidiary Atlanta Gas Light’s existing infrastructure, in collaboration with four national laboratories.

In addition, Southern Company is assessing metering and regulating infrastructure’s hydrogen compatibility with the Electric Power Research Institute. These research projects contribute to Southern Company Gas’ effort to help deliver a clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy future for its customers and communities.

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